“White Privilege”: Why We All Need to Retire this Trite, Trigger-Happy Catchphrase in 2020. (Seriously. Let it Go.)
I confess. Never have I ever used the words white and privilege together in the same sentence before 2020. I find pop culture’s current obsession with White Privilege to be divisive and frankly problematic. The platitude of White Privilege perpetuates a dangerous narrative that African-Americans are still powerless to improve our own lives and shape our futures. It transfers accountability, thus further empowering White people. Afterall, if White people are the cause of Black misery, shouldn't they be our great saviors, too? And this is precisely the problem with the White Privilege phenomenon. Just as one (wo)man’s drinking cannot quench another (wo)man’s thirst, the phenom of White Privilege poses a conundrum for which there is no absolute resolution.
There are not enough apologies to right the wrongs. No amount of shaming White-Americans for wittingly or unwittingly reaping the benefits of a society that rewards them merely for existing while subjugating others for the same reason will fix a broken system. So, isn’t it about time we retire White Privilege narrative already and focus on making Black Privilege a thing?
Oxford Dictionary defines privilege as:
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
During a taping of his Daily Show, Trevor Noah, delivered perhaps the most eloquent analogy of generational racial disparity that I’ve ever heard: He compared the encumbrance African-Americans have endured including slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, educational segregation and obstruction to land ownership to a golf handicap. You’d have to understand the game of golf to really get how spot on this explanation was and to whom it was directed. And then came a response from White Hollywood — I Take Responsibility, the cringey af PSA from a group of somber actors taking responsibility for “it.” The “it” is never really explained, rather insinuated and danced around in a confusing and uncomfortable manner. The project was a well-deserved PR catastrophe.
This is not to say that redlining, under-appraising Black-owned homes, discriminatory hiring practices based on ethnic-sounding names and racial profiling does not exist. Indeed, they do. But, it would be preposterous to expect those who benefit most from a inequitable system to take responsibility of fixing it. After all, for them it isn’t broken. This is case of: Don’t hate the player. Hate the game. Better yet, get in the game and play to win. Sometimes, you have to play dirty.
The most effective way to level the playing field is for those most disenfranchised by it to become an integral part of the solution. Increasing African-American representation in industries that have demonstrated the most obstruction to Black achievement and generational wealth— real estate, politics, law enforcement, tech, media and finance — would do more to establish Black Privilege in a single generation than complaining about White Privilege. Understand privilege is something that is not only given to us, but also must be realized individually.
Some may consider it White Privilege to be stopped by police and have the good fortune of being let go with a warning and a wink rather than, say, a bullet in the back. Or to apply for a home loan and receive a low interest rate. But what exactly are White people expected to do — insist that the police handcuff them on the spot or that banks give them a higher mortgage rate? Realistically this would seldom happen. In June Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the board and urged the social media company to hire an African-American as his replacement. Is this enough?
More often, the social phenomenon of White Privilege doesnt lead to CEOs jumping ship, but rather awkward, unsolicited encounters with White people apologizing for their whiteness or for slavery and unoriginal virtue signaling on social media. I wonder how would America look with more African-Americans in blue with shiny badges? More African-Americans as judges, property owners, lawmakers and lenders? A lot more beautiful, I think we can all agree.
My immigrant parents raised me to believe I was privileged to be in America and that anything was accessible to me, as long as I was willing to work hard for it. To that point, I’ve often used Black and privilege in the same sentence. Black Privilege is work. Hard work. Black Privilege is recognizing we are all players in this broken system and it is up to each of us to fix it. Black Privilege is turning anger into useful energy. Black Privilege is also travelling to Moscow and hearing Russians who cannot speak English rapping a Biggie Smalls song word-for-word. Black Privilege is moving up the ladder and extending an earnest opportunity to someone young, gifted and Black. Black Privilege is a limitless potential that exists in all African-Americans by virtue of being born in this wonderful country. Let’s start trending that.